Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a common psychiatric condition. Efforts to prevent depression have been challenging. One promising intervention is physical activity, defined broadly as musculoskeletal movement resulting in energy expenditure. The relationship between physical activity and depression has received much attention in recent years.

Previous research has shown that physical activity is associated with reduced risk for depression, pointing to a potentially modifiable target for prevention. However, the causality and direction of this association are not clear; physical activity may protect against depression, or depression may result in decreased physical activity.

In this new study published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers asked the question, does physical activity have a potential causal role in reducing risk for depression? Their objective was to examine bidirectional relationships between physical activity and depression using a genetically informed method for assessing potential causal factors.

Researchers concluded that robust evidence supports a protective relationship between objectively assessed—but not self-reported—physical activity and the risk for major depressive disorder. Findings point to the importance of objective measurement of physical activity in epidemiologic studies of mental health and support the hypothesis that enhancing physical activity may be an effective prevention strategy for depression.

Major depression is a serious condition and seems to be treated best with multiple interventions and an integrative approach. However, if you need to elevate your mood try increasing your physical activity, preferably outside and around nature. Research shows that replacing sedentary behaviour with 15 minutes of vigorous activity each day can reduce depression risk by roughly 26 per cent. In addition, similar research found people report a higher level of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem while reducing levels of tension, depression and fatigue after they have walked outside. Perhaps elevating your mood can be as easy as a walk in the park.